Let citizens decide on excise tax proposal

The Jan. 31 TGI Forum included a banner article by a Kauai County Council member which in essence proposes that the council adopt an increase in the state excise tax so that there can be an expansion of the Kauai bus service and bike and pedestrian facilities.

The purpose of this proposal violates principles that should govern the conduct of our local government.

In my view, a local government should offer only services that the people are willing to pay for. At present on Kauai, our government provides the customary fire, police, planning and street and road facilities for which no revenue is directly charged to the user.

In addition, the county operates several businesses which serve some of our residents and for which the user is charged amounts intended to cover the costs of the service. The charges often fail to cover operating costs but the intent is there. These include water and sewage facilities, and a golf course. The county also operates a bus service for which users pay less than half its cost.

The council member wants to expand the bus service but nowhere is it stated the scope of the expansion sought or its cost that the taxpayers are to incur for such expansion. In fact, during the existence of the bus service, taxpayers have subsidized over $10 million for the service.

Local public transportation often operates at a loss. If taxpayers are willing be taxed for such a loss because of the benefits the service provides to some, then it should be done. But the council member is asking for a blank check for ill-defined benefits.

Our council member is akin to Democratic party presidential candidate Bernie Sanders who wants more governmental services and is vague about how their cost would be met. An important difference, though, is that Mr. Sanders seeks increased taxes from our wealthy citizens but our council member wants the revenue source to be the regressive excise tax.

It is time that if our government wants to offer services for which a significant taxpayer obligation would result, our citizens should be given the right to vote on such a choice.

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Walter Lewis is a resident of Kauai.

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